Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, October 21st, 2019

There is always a well-known solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong.

H.L. Mencken

S North
Both ♠ J 10 4
 K 7 5 3
 K 10 2
♣ A 10 4
West East
♠ 9 6
 Q 9 4 2
 J 9 5 4 3
♣ 8 6
♠ K Q 5 3 2
 A J 10
 A Q 6
♣ J 7
♠ A 8 7
 8 6
 8 7
♣ K Q 9 5 3 2
South West North East
Pass Pass 1 ♣ Dbl.
3 NT All pass    


The 2014 European Team Championships were held in Opatija, Croatia, to determine the six teams who would go on to vie for the Bermuda Bowl, which was held in Chennai, India, while the women’s and seniors’ events decided the European representatives at the Venice Cup and d’Orsi Bowl, respectively.

Our first deal of the week was played in round one, between France and Iceland. It is rarely a good sign when the same team declares the hand in the same strain at both tables, but the French proved one should never say never. In one room, the French East opened a strong no-trump and played there, drifting two down.

In the other room (shown), when Thomas Bessis opened his patchy 11-count in third chair. East chose to double, treating his hand as too strong for an immediate one-spade overcall and South, Michel Bessis, had a crack at the no-trump game, gambling on finding two quick tricks opposite to go with the club suit.

West led an attitude diamond four to East’s queen. The spade shift gave declarer no problems. He ran it to dummy, crossed to his hand in clubs and played a diamond to the 10, establishing his ninth trick.

East should shift to a heart at trick two. If declarer ducks, East drives out the spade ace and has five tricks, but if declarer wins and finesses in diamonds, the defenders now have the communication to take two diamonds and three heart tricks.

The French gained nine IMPs for their enterprise.

It is rarely right to lead from ace-fourth against no-trump, since it often costs a trick and you will frequently have time to switch to that suit if you need to. Because a club lead from our doubleton would be against the odds, we must choose between the red suits. There is an argument for leading a major suit, as West did not use Stayman, but whether you lead a small heart or the diamond five is up to you.


♠ A 6 4 3
 J 8 2
 7 5 4 3
♣ 9 2
South West North East
      1 NT
Pass 3 NT All pass  

For details of Bobby Wolff’s autobiography, The Lone Wolff, contact If you would like to contact Bobby Wolff, please leave a comment at this blog.
Reproduced with permission of United Feature Syndicate, Inc., Copyright 2019. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Iain ClimieNovember 4th, 2019 at 4:20 pm

HI Bobby,

On LWTA how much better has the spade suit got to be before it becomes reasonably sensible? With A109x or AJ9x I suspect a spade is fine, but what about AJxx or even A10xx? Of course TOCM will give partner SKJx sitting over dummy’s Qxx plus an outside Ace so a spade at T1 is the only hope of getting the 5 tricks due to the spade blockage.



Bob LiptonNovember 4th, 2019 at 5:06 pm

When faced with a hand like this, my reasoning would include the realization that to defeat this contract calls for honors in partner’s hand. Therefore I would try to hit partner’s suit, and that looks like it might be hearts. It’s tempting to lead the Jack, but that’s too big a position at this point. I can always dump it on the second round if that looks warranted.

Defeating the contract by leading diamonds looks for too big a perfecto. I’d be inclined to lead a spade before a diamond.


Bobby WolffNovember 4th, 2019 at 5:17 pm

Hi Iain,

No doubt the real definition of TOCM (theory of card migration) and according to Jim2 would define it as ALWAYS leading to the fulfillment of a contract which could be set. IOW declarer having nine tricks (or more) at the ready, in case of an errant lead (here, so to speak).

Now to the chase. I’d be kidding myself (and anyone who would listen) if I thought I knew anywhere close to what would be percentage to choose a suit, headed by an ace, but either having or not spot cards high enough to justify originally leading from that suit.

However I will make the guess of A10xx to be barely acceptable. However I will then quantify my judgment as merely a wild effort, no doubt sometimes (because of that very 10, to give away the ninth trick in an otherwise non-makeable nine tricks).

Moral being, choose something reasonable (at least according to the leader) and treat that result, along with all others, as only a single episode, in the hoped for long life of someone who had achieved some history with making relatively blind, but somewhat experienced opening leads.

The above only requires a tough minded human to qualify as one who begins to possess a necessary quality in becoming a decent player.

Bobby WolffNovember 4th, 2019 at 8:12 pm

Hi Bob,

Please forgive my disagreeing. Not with your stated reasons, but rather for your attempt to
deal (please excuse) with a problem which has been unsolvable for my last 75 years.

It’s all guesswork, but even the possibility of leading a jack, with no supporting 10 (or better) is IMO not to be considered.

Leading from an ace is clearly (again according to my experience) a distinct possibility but my message is simply, lead either a low spade, a low heart, or whatever agreement you and partner have for leading from 4 small diamonds) and await to see what happens and then, only try to be close to accurate later, when the dummy is exposed and the play progresses.

Obviously a club lead is also in the mix, but the above reasoning rules it out, although my guess as to its likelihood of success is not far away from the other three.

Thanks for allowing me to, at least, give my views on that subject, and whether it was prudent here or not I don’t know, but in order to devote one’s mind to being as good a player as he or she can be, he needs to understand the point I am trying to make. “Don’t sweat the impossible, but instead concentrate on the evidence to be quickly exposed, the dummy, play to the first trick and what will then be led from the winner of the first trick”.

Bob LiptonNovember 4th, 2019 at 9:23 pm

Dear Bobby,

I’ve expressed myself poorly and your disagreeing with me requiring an apology is mind boggling. Given this hand, given that the opponents have between 24 and 31 HCP, all we know is they’re unlikely to have more than nine cards in a major — given a 4-3-3-3 hand, I won’t look for a major, and with 13 or so points, I also am not inclined to look for major. So if the 1NT opener likes to open with a 5-card major, there’s unlikely to be more than 9 cards in a major for declarer and dummy. A disheartening prospect!

Nonetheless, as opening leader, it’s up to me to find the killing lead, and here i look for partner’s long suit; and after all, while he might hold a stiff heart, as outlined above, he might also hold as many as 6 when declarer and dummy turn up with 2 each! So, after considering leading the HJ and rejecting it, my choices of opening leads are 1: H2, hoping it’s partner’s suit and declarer misinterprets the lead and misplays; 2: S3, hoping partner holds at least three Spades with at least the King; a diamond, hoping declarer misguesses everything. Clubs are out of it.

I apologize for even thinking about leading the SJ, but given how many hands I’ve had in the newspapers (zero), I think I should be forgiven for at least considering the possibility of seeing my name in print!


Bobby WolffNovember 5th, 2019 at 5:12 pm

Hi Bob,

First, it is not within the realm of considering, much less requiring, anyone to apologize for merely thinking and then judging what he or she thinks may be the winning answer.

This site lends itself to everyone who wants to inject his or her opinion thus allowing the reader to take that for what its worth, while making up his own mind.

All that I have effectively meant by my discussion is that opening leads, particularly against part score contracts and in the absence of help from the bidding (partner bidding a suit, or the opponents, by their bidding, somewhat indicating the likelihood of where their weakness may be), is highly speculative and very difficult to guess right, particularly when three or four possibilities become the choices.

Then, in addition, when and if, an experienced and well known winner is called upon to choose, he, since he has so little to go on when it goes exactly or similar to 1NT, all pass, it becomes close to a nightmare to bat even as high as 33% in being right.

Right or wrong, that is what my experience has told me, but there is always the possibility that my judgment is not as keen as others, allowing them to better predictors (and thus teachers) than I.

At least to me, there is likely not enough more to say, since probabilities in bridge haven’t (at least IMO) changed much in the many years that I have been playing and AFAIK no one or, if not, few, have even voiced an opinion to the contrary.

Finally, and not in any way, suggesting you, but instead me, I have always appreciated the advice, “Better to remain silent and thought a fool, rather than speak out and remove all doubt” to which I remain convinced.